Please continue to visit us. This page will soon provide articles, online video training, webinars and a Members Only section. In the meantime, please enjoy the article below written by Howard Wolf, HW3 Group LLC, for a Hawaiian magazine.
"Be the hero your building needs: The 5 essentials to successfully navigating water damage.”
Of the many challenges faced by property managers, risk managers, building owners, and building management professionals, probably the most challenging are water intrusions into their building. Water intrusions are some of the most perplexing and complex problems. If not addressed correctly, damage can exponentially increase and even become dangerous to occupants. In order to help facilitate a successful solution to a water intrusion, there are 5 essentials every building professional should know.
1. Work with what you know to discover what you don’t.
Building managers, maintenance personnel and property managers are the most knowledgeable about their buildings. They inherently have intimate knowledge of the structure, systems, and fixtures. In short, they know why this wall zigs when that one zags and what is behind it all. This is the biggest asset in a water damage intrusion event. Many properties, especially older ones, do not have current or accurate plans onsite. If you do not have plans, it is highly recommended that you get a copy and have an electronic version of them stored in a cloud-based drive, or at an offsite location, in case the building is damaged where the plans are stored. Electronic copies have become the standard and are most beneficial to outside vendors who may be called to assist, such as mitigation vendors, construction consultants, engineers and insurance professionals.
The first step to a solution is to gather as much information as possible. This is usually best accomplished by those that know the building best. For example, if a water event starts in a unit, it is always easier to ask the tenant what happened. While this is a good starting point, it is only the tip of a proper investigation. A building professional should either start at the source, if it is known and work out to determine the perimeter of the damage; or, if the source is not known, try to work out to a perimeter to triangulate the source. Sometimes, determining the exact source of the water requires removing or disengaging building materials, or disengaging systems. These may need to be handled by specialized professionals under the supervision of the building manager. Once the source is discovered, a proper remedy can be found.
The Institute for Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification (IICRC – iicrc.org) is the standard bearer for water damage and mold. They write the only American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standards on the subject. According to the ANSI/IICRC S500 Standard and Reference Guide for Professional Water Damage Restoration, 4th Edition published in 2015 (S500-15), water intrusions are put into 3 categories. They are, in essence:
1. Category 1 – Water that comes from a clean source and enters a building that is not contaminated.
2. Category 2 – Water that comes from a gray water source and enters an uncontaminated structure, or water that comes from a clean source and enters a structure that is contaminated.
3. Category 3 – Water that is grossly contaminated and can cause serious illness or injury through ingestion or dermal exposure.
Even though there are three categories of water intrusion, there are really only two responses: contaminated and uncontaminated. If the intrusion is uncontaminated, and small enough in scope, it may be possible to perform the cleanup and repairs in-house, as long as the staff is properly trained for such tasks. If the intrusion is contaminated, it is usually best to retain the services of a vendor that is properly trained and certified by the IICRC to perform the services required to restore the property. Bottom line, get as much information as possible prior to initiating services.
2. Know your building
Most building managers, property managers, and maintenance professionals intimately know the layout, and, in many cases, mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems of the property. They also know their occupancy, the tenants, pets, staff and other occupants. However, there is more than the footprint and the people. It is important to know where all valves, disconnects, and clean-outs are in the plumbing. Further, it is important to have a good understanding of the fire suppression, electrical and other mechanical systems. It is one thing for the facilities people to know where they are, but is it properly documented, clearly marked and mapped out? Many properties, especially those with long-standing staff members and managers, allow these tasks to lapse because they know it and have it committed to memory. The issues arise, however, when something happens to that manager or staff member, like retirement, and the knowledge is lost.
Beyond the plans for the building, systems and fixtures, it is important to have an offsite or cloud backup of the location of these important sites, as well as any codes for lockouts, and alarms. Having these items handy can immensely reduce the amount of time water is running and reduce the overall damage to the building. It is also tremendously helpful to review these procedures and the location of these items with local first responders, namely the fire department and public works departments. This simple item can save a property owner tens of thousands to millions of dollars in damage.
3. Know when and who to call when it gets to be too much.
In many cases, the facility maintenance crews can handle small and in some cases, intermediate size cleanups and repairs. But, every water damage is different and require different skill sets to complete. Some may require a tradesman, some a mitigation and drying company, some may even require engineers and architects. Whatever the need, it is always best to have a record of these vendors on file and at the ready. It is also a good idea to have these vendors pre-qualified and in the accounting system. Further, get pricing and some basic scope scenarios pre-approved. This will help expedite and make completing the project much easier. In short, have a communication tree with pre-approved vendors, agreed pricing and a short list of scope items to get things started.
4. Have a Plan
Being completely prepared for a water intrusion is next to an impossibility. However, the next best thing is to have a plan to cover the basics. The specifics of the plan can be as detailed or as sparse as the needs of the building. However, beyond the plans and lists we’ve previously discussed, there are a few other items that are useful in every plan. First, a plan should be as general as possible to account for many types of losses, not just water intrusions. Fires, vandalisms, and other types of peril should also be covered in this plan. Therefore, vendors may be added to the list of contacts and pre-approvals. In addition to those mentioned above, it is many times beneficial to have other trades, engineers and an industrial hygenist. For buildings built within the past 10 years or older buildings that have undergone major renovations in the past several years, it is also beneficial to have the original builder and/or developer’s information available. This information is often requested by the carrier’s representatives.
In addition to the physical damage portion, a good plan includes several other items commonly overlooked by risk managers and property managers until a loss occurs. For instance, if a building has business interruption or other special endorsements, there should be a pre-agreed methodology that is communicated to the accounting department to allow for the swift retrieval of information, if a claim needs to be filed. Also, a growing number of property and risk managers are including claims preparation coverage and naming a claims preparation specialist. Sometimes a carrier offers these services, but it is usually better to find your own professional for this. As claims and the claims process become more complex, it is usually better for a disinterested third party perform these services.
Finally, a good plan needs to be trained on and communicated. Staff should be aware of the plan and their roles in the plan. Many times, the claims management professionals you retain to prepare your claim can also assist in putting a plan together and train the staff. This is a function that is usually beyond the scope of a risk manager’s duties, and, therefore, can create a gap in a risk management protocol. Involve the vendors and have regular meetings (e.g., semi-annually, annually) to discuss changes to pricing, the structure, modifications to systems, and other issues that relate to the building preparedness.
5. Be empathetic with tenants and other occupants
In many cases, large buildings and experienced property and building managers deal with intrusions of every size on a monthly, weekly, or even daily basis. It is important to remember that many times the tenant is not experienced and does not know what to expect. The experience, if it happens in a unit, can be traumatic. The tenant will always cling to the first person to respond for support, answers to their questions, and for reassurance that everything will return to normal. In most cases, this person is the building manager, property manager, or staff member.
An empathetic ear and a soft “bedside manner” go a long way to ensure the property is returned to its original condition with few interruptions, and without the scope of work being blown out of proportion. It is true in any profession that deals in traumatic situations, with experience, comes a “hardening” to what you see. That can be translated as a lack of caring or understanding of what the tenant is experiencing, even though that staff person has dealt with hundreds of cases. It can be like a nurse that has seen so much trauma, that they can become numb to what the patient is going through and lose some of the softness and caring that lead them to the field in the first place. The key to empathy is listening and understanding their plight. It can be difficult at times, but once mastered, the project is already a success.
Even though no two water intrusions are created equal, there are common threads to all of them. Just following the five essentials previously mentioned will be sure to make you the hero that every building needs, and every tenant deserves. As we tell our employees, “be accurate and thorough, don’t guess, and listen to what the building and the interested parties are telling you.” It is good advice for anybody, but especially for those of us that are passionate about service, quality, and sustainability of the building and our customers.